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Shared file systems: An overview

At their core, shared file systems let multiple users access the same files at the same time. Learn about the different products in this space and the categories they fall into.

If your organization needs more performance and scalability than you can get from using NFS and CIFS file servers, you're in luck. Some vendors have developed what is known as shared file systems. The idea behind a shared file system is simple: multiple users can access the same files over different operating systems at the same time.

The shared file system approach provides many benefits. For starters, it can offer a single global namespace that allows files to be located by multiple servers and sets the stage for policy-based management and large-scale consolidation. Shared file systems can also help to reduce the latency associated with sharing large files across a network, such as those typically found in industries like broadcast media, graphics, medical research and scientific communities.

Proponents of these systems have also said that shared file systems can help address compliance issues by letting you quickly and easily locate files when necessary.

Despite the above benefits, shared file systems may not be for everyone, although some have found them to be a great help at reducing the time spent managing data.

The resources listed below, and in our accompanying feature, Solve file-sharing headaches, should help you explore the different products available. They should also provide you with some useful advice on how best to implement shared file systems in your current networked storage environment.

In his recent webcast, Yankee Group senior analyst Jamie Gruener discussed three types of shared file systems: SAN file systems, clustered file systems and application file systems. The following list of shared file systems focuses on the first two categories only. (Application file systems -- such as those provided by companies like Oracle Corporation -- can also help you deal with file-sharing issues that arise within applications, such as Oracle databases. For more about these types of shared file systems, please see Gruener's webcast.)

Use the listings below as a springboard for further research about the shared file systems that might be best for your environment. These lists include a sampling of vendor products found in each category as well as links to further resources about each product.

SAN file systems

SAN file systems let you share files across SANs or in a converged SAN/NAS environment. Products in this category include IBM's long-awaited SAN File System (code-named StorageTank) and they are rapidly growing in number. Sample products in this category include:

  • ADIC StorNext
  • EMC Celerra HighRoad
  • IBM SAN File System
  • IBM Tivoli SANergy
  • Sanbolic Melio FS

    Clustered file systems

    In clustered file systems, all nodes understand the file system structure and the full file system is shared across all nodes. Sample products in this category include:

  • Spinnaker Networks SpinCluster
  • Panasas
  • Isilon IQ with Isilon OneFS
  • PolyServe Matrix Server
  • Sistina Global File System
  • Veritas SANPoint Foundation Suite/Cluster File System


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